Labels We Love – United Artists

John Williams – The Missouri Breaks (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

More of the music of John Williams (1932- )

  • A stunning original pressing of this TAS-approved soundtrack album with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last
  • This one is doing everything right – it’s bigger, bolder, richer and more clean, clear and open than anything else we played
  • As one might expect, the sound absolutely jumps out of the speakers on this recording
  • I recall this record being on the TAS List back in the day – it appears to have since dropped off the newer iterations, but we still think of it as a Super Disc
  • “While eschewing the grandiose string arrangements and heroic sweep of the composer’s best-known efforts, it’s nevertheless one of Williams’ most delightful and ambitious scores, applying traditional Western instrumentation like guitar, banjo, and harmonica to melodies rooted in contemporary pop and jazz.”

What typically separates the killer copies from the merely good ones are two qualities that we often look for in the records we play: transparency and lack of smear.

Transparency allows you to hear into the recording, reproducing the ambience and subtle musical cues and details that high-resolution analog is known for.

Note that most Heavy Vinyl pressings being produced these days seem to be quite Transparency Challenged. Lots of important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found.

Lack of smear is also important, especially on a recording with so many plucked instruments. The speed and clarity of the transients, the sense that fingers are pulling on strings, strings that are ringing with tonally correct harmonics, is what makes these L&M records so much fun to play.

The best copies really get that sound right, in the same way that the best copies of Cat Stevens’ records get the sound of stringed instruments right.

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Electric Light Orchestra – Face The Music

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  • This copy has real depth to the soundfield, full-bodied, present vocals, plenty of bottom end weight, and lovely analog warmth
  • You probably know most of these songs, even if you don’t recognize the titles (Waterfall, One Summer Dream)
  • “The soulful ‘Evil Woman’ was one of the most respectable chart hits of its era, and one of the best songs that Lynne ever wrote (reportedly in 30 minutes), while ‘Strange Magic’ showed off his writing in a more ethereal vein.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this classic from 1975 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Nobody seems to have noticed — at least I can find no evidence for anyone noticing, using a google search — that the song Fire on High, which opens side one of this album, is directly lifted from the opening song on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Funeral for a Friend.

He owes a lot of his sound to The Bee Gees as well as The Beatles, another thing about his music that nobody seems to notice.

But that takes nothing away from the fact that he is a consummate craftsman of catchy pop songs, the kind that get stuck in your head and make your day brighter than it would otherwise have been.

There are many fine examples of these kinds of songs on this very album. The first three (out of four) tracks on side one are all very strong: Fire On High, Waterfall and Evil Woman. On side two all the songs after Poker are very strong: Strange Magic, Down Home Town, and One Summer Dream.

That makes this a fairly consistent ELO record. Not quite the equal of A New World Record but not that far behind it either.

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Gerry Rafferty – City To City

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More British Folk Rock

  • An outstanding copy of this early British pressing of Rafferty’s Must-Own Classic with Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • City To City is a Must Own Album – no right-thinking audiophile can fail to be impressed by the songwriting and production of Rafferty’s Masterpiece of British Folk Pop
  • You won’t believe how rich, Tubey Magical, big, undistorted and present this copy is (until you play it anyway)
  • If all you know are audiophile or domestic pressings, you should be prepared for a mind-blowing experience with this UK pressing
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Rafferty’s turns of phrase and tight composition skills create a fresh sound and perspective all his own… resulting in a classic platter buoyed by many moments of sheer genius.”

Here you will find the kind of rich, sweet, classically British Tubey Magical sound that we cannot get enough of here at Better Records. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra / On the Third Day – The British Imports Are Made from Dubs

More of the Music of The Electric Light Orchestra

Sonic Grade: F

It’s obvious, or should be, that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers. We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our shootout many years ago and they all sucked.

We tend to buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that often sound the best. Many of the domestic pressings sound as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British.


FURTHER READING

This record sounds best this way:

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels 

On the Right Domestic Pressing 

On the Right Early Pressing

For those who might be interested in finding their own Hot Stamper pressings, we here provide

More Moderately Helpful Title Specific Advice

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Gerry Rafferty / City To City – Listen for the Huge Chorus of The Ark

More of the Music of Gerry Rafferty

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses

Albums with Choruses that Are Good for Testing

Listen to the chorus on the first track, The Ark. On the best copies, it really gets loud without becoming harsh or shrill. So many popular albums have choruses (and guitar solos) that are no louder, and sometimes not even as loud, as the verses, which rob the songs of any real drama or power. This recording has the potential to give you a dramatic, powerful, loud chorus and it’s a thrill when you find a pressing that delivers on that promise.

(One way we know to listen for these volume changes is that we actually play our records good and loud. When a dynamic recording such as this comes along, we have to watch our levels, otherwise, the chorus will overwhelm the system and room. When playing this copy, be sure to set the level for the chorus of the first track. Everything should play just fine once that setting is correct, as the artist intended.)

The double-tracked vocals on Whatever’s Written in Your Heart are a good test for resolution and Tubey Magic. There should clearly be two voices heard without having to sacrifice the wonderful richness of the better copies for the clarity that makes hearing both voices possible.

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Electric Light Orchestra / On the Third Day – Rave Reviews

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More of our favorite Art Rock Records

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AMG Review

Electric Light Orchestra’s third album showed a marked advancement, with a fuller, more cohesive sound from the band as a whole and major improvements in Jeff Lynne’s singing and songwriting. This is where the band took on its familiar sound, Lynne’s voice suddenly showing an attractive expressiveness reminiscent of John Lennon in his early solo years, and also sporting a convincing white British soulful quality that was utterly lacking earlier.

Billboard

The ELO’s blending of rock drums, pop violins, a semiclassical feel in the sweep of these same violins, the midrange colors of the cello, and a vocal blend that reminds one of the Beatles in their sophisticated studio days, makes up all the key elements in their music.

Take “New World Rising”; it’s got strumming strings in tempo with the snare drum, swirling Moog effects, and a plunking cello that leads into the voices. There are sudden stops and other enervating keys to the arrangement. It’s spectacular listening. There is a cogent blending of what sounds like classical oriented strings with the contemporary rhythm patterns.

“Dreaming of 4000” is spectacular with its echo-framed vocal effect — a gimmick that blends with the pizzicato and swirling strings. The musicianship is vastly superior to the vocals.

Rolling Stone

If you liked ELO II for its weavings of familiar classical motifs through lengthy songs, On the Third Day will both please and disappoint you. If, on the other hand, you loved “Roll Over Beethoven” but thought the LP’s other four songs overblown, you’ll find about the same measure of pleasure here (if not more).

Although leader Jeff Lynne has said he doesn’t consider ELO a singles group, their singles have outsold their albums and, like “Roll Over Beethoven,” the strongest material on Third Day consists of the current single “Showdown” and the probable follow-up, “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.”

“Showdown” applies their formula of thematic eclectism to pop music (instead of classical), pulling riffs from “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” an early John Mayall song called “All Your Love,” and even Del Shannon’s “Stranger In Town.” It’s a heavily produced, commercial record on a par with Stories’ “Brother Louie,” and the extra effort shows. It stands out here, like a refugee from some apocryphal ELO album containing ten such blockbuster tracks. It’s approached only by “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle,” a rather blatant plagiarism of Mott the Hoople’s “Jerkin’ Crocus” of recent vintage. Its pounding chords and heavy-metal blaze are somewhat out of character for ELO, although they come close to the power of the original. But they fall short, in both lyrics and delivery, in their total lack of humor about themselves and the music, a fault that may one day prove their downfall.

On the classical side, while we are spared the long minutes of exploratory riff-rock that made up more than half of ELO II, what we have is only arguably an improvement. Six-plus minutes of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” do little more to enliven side two than the song does for their live act. It’s no more than the well-known Grieg theme, which has been no stranger to rock before.

“Dreaming of 4000” is, to my mind, the most effective fusion of rock and classics on the album, with a fine melody and plenty of instrumental finesse that could be trimmed to make a decent single.

The conceptual bulk of Third Day is found on side one where four songs are linked into a loose suite whose main source of inspiration seems to have been the Beatles’ White Album. Beyond even the obvious resemblance of “Bluebird Is Dead” to “Dear Prudence,” and “Oh No Not Susan” to “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” this entire set of songs has that same mood of wide-ranging introspective repose that characterized the latter album, and features the closest thing to delicate vocal harmonies we’ve heard from Jeff Lynne since his days with the Idle Race. That aside, however, we still have only a tenuously connected group of songs, as opposed to anything on the order of “Kuiama,” on the last album, which used its length and the group’s unique approach to music to achieve real emotional impact.

– Greg Shaw, Rolling Stone, 1-31-74.

War / Why Can’t We Be Friends? – A True Demo Disc

More War

This Well Recorded Album Should Be More Popular with Audiophiles

  • An incredible copy of the band’s 1975 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • One of our favorite albums here at Better Records and clearly the band’s Masterpiece – the bass and dynamics on the better pressings make this a Demo Disc on the right system
  • 4 stars [but we give it 5]: “Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth. [It] remains one of War’s truly outstanding efforts, and has become an integral part of the funk genre’s landscape. It also remains the nightcap of their finest hour.”

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts. His mixes feature lots of bass; huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or becoming congested; and rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1975.

Low Rider sounds AWESOME on this one. This is the kind of record you can take to any stereo store or audiophile friend’s house and bring their stereos to their knees. Audiophile systems are rarely designed to play this kind of music at the levels it demands, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Records like this are the challenge we audiophiles need to make our stereos even better. When the music is this good it’s worth the effort

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War – Deliver The Word

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  • Insanely good Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this Shootout Winning copy – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Thanks to the brilliant engineering of Chris Huston, the sound is War at its best: big, rich, smooth and clear, with the kind of low end whomp that few rock records from the era can claim
  • 4 Stars: “A smooth blend of the band’s more progressive jazz-rock fusion, the LP shot to the top of the R&B charts, their second of four number one records in a row. It was a perfect tonic to the mediocre MOR music rampaging its way through the early part of the decade…A magical ride with plenty of surprises to keep the listener on his or her toes, this set is a perfect example of the band at their genre-fusing best.”

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts. His mixes feature lots of bass; huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or becoming congested; and rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1972.

As for the choruses, allow me to paraphrase our listing from Commoner’s Crown.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs. The first track on side two, Four Cornered Room, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Richness and weight are key to the sound, but oddly enough an extended top end was almost as crucial to the success of the best copies. When the top end extends, the sound is open and relaxed. When the various songs build to their climaxes, the copies with lots of clean top end had a sense of “ease” that simply was not to be found on the smoother (read: duller) brethren. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day

  • This outstanding copy of the band’s third studio album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • This domestic LP is proof that the master tape used to cut the album in 1973 was right here in the good old U.S. of A.
  • “Electric Light Orchestra’s third album showed a marked advancement, with a fuller, more cohesive sound from the band as a whole and major improvements in Jeff Lynne’s singing and songwriting.”
  • “The ELO’s blending of rock drums, pop violins, a semiclassical feel in the sweep of these same violins, the midrange colors of the cello, and a vocal blend that reminds one of the Beatles in their sophisticated studio days, makes up all the key elements in their music.”

Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports make it sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers.

We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our first big shootout in 2010 and they all sucked. We always buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that sound the best, the domestic pressings time and again sounding as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. Live and learn I guess. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado

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More of our favorite Art Rock Records

  • An outstanding vintage pressing of Eldorado with solid Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet as can be found
  • This pressing showed us a big, lively, musically involving Eldorado, one of the toughest nuts to crack in the entire ELO canon
  • There are some really awful UK pressings out there (and lots of bad domestics to be sure), so if you like the thrill of the hunt, make sure you have plenty of time and money to spend
  • 5 stars: “Eldorado was strongly reminiscent in some ways of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not that it could ever have the same impact or be as distinctive, but it had its feet planted in so many richly melodic and varied musical traditions, yet made it all work in a rock context, that it did recall the Beatles classic.”

As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it’s the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in the incredibly dense mixes — with strings! – that Lynne favors. But when you find a copy that does, what a THRILL it is. (more…)